Keeping Perspective

 In Blog

From where I sit, with the various hats I grab from the hat rack throughout every week, I get to think about and work on a number of variables in the complicated equation defining the future of the Atlanta region.  In my opinion, most of those variables are trending in a good direction, but some give me pause.

On the positive side of the ledger we have a new, positive attitude regarding public transportation in general, and MARTA in particular.  Wearing my MARTA board hat, I have to say that the 2015 legislative session was the best for MARTA since the MARTA Act was passed in 1965.  In addition, the citizens of Clayton County voted overwhelmingly last year to join MARTA, our first jurisdictional expansion ever.  And last year, when surveyed by the Atlanta Regional Commission, 70 percent of respondents in the region said that improved public transit was very important for our region’s future, with another 22 percent saying that it was somewhat important.  Even in the suburban counties without transit service, 57 percent of respondents said public transit was very important for our region.

In March, the citizens of Atlanta voted overwhelmingly in support of a $250 million bond package to fund transportation infrastructure and public facility repair.  The Buckhead, Midtown and Downtown CIDs continue to invest their tax proceeds to make infrastructure improvements within their boundaries as the urban core of Atlanta continues to attract residents and jobs.  (Did you know that in the past two years more building permits were pulled in the City of Atlanta than in any county in the Atlanta region?)  Other community improvement districts throughout the region continue their good work, and new CIDs are created each year.  The 2015 legislature passed a transportation funding bill that will allow the Georgia DOT to begin to catch up on deferred maintenance from years of underinvestment in our transportation assets.  Transportation agencies – Georgia DOT, MARTA, GRTA and the ARC – are working together better than I ever recall witnessing.

The wind seems to be at our backs for the moment in terms of progress with transportation service and infrastructure, but there are a couple of clouds on the horizon that give me some concern.

Last month, Brookings released new data regarding income inequality and social mobility for the largest cities in the United States.  Brookings analyzed the incomes of households earning more than 95% of all other households, as well as those households earning only 20% of all other households.  On the negative side of the ledger, Atlanta has the largest gap between the two – the greatest income disparity between “rich and poor” households in the country.

Some additional information was presented to me and hundreds of others at the Underwater Atlanta symposium at the Carter Center last month.  The symposium addressed issues related to households that are “underwater” in terms of their mortgages.  In almost all of the counties in the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area, the percentage of underwater homes is greater than the national average, and most of the zip codes with the worst problems in the country happen to be in our region.

I know there isn’t a panacea.  It will take a great many factors including improving public education outcomes and continued job growth opportunities to help address these two social issues in the long term.  My hope is that improvements in transportation infrastructure and access, which are right around the corner, will also be part of the solution.

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